Inner Work – The confrontation with oneself
“I’d rather go to the office for eight hours than work on myself!”
The open confrontation with oneself, the deep digging into the subconscious, the teasing out of naked truths, the razor-sharp pain. Inner work is one of the most difficult, dramatic and at the same time most beautiful undertakings of our existence. If we allow ourselves to engage in it, we can live the most fulfilling of all lives, have more intense relationships, be more relaxed and successful. If we permanently avoid inner work, it can have dramatic consequences for our personal and professional life journey.
Inner work may and must hurt
Inner work often feels like a compulsory visit to the dentist. It has to be done somehow and sometime, it hurts, but we can also let it slide for a longer period of time – without immediate consequences. But you know yourself: Letting things slide is never wise – it robs us of our strength and our possibilities. Inner work is about our own desires and goals, about our well-being, about our relationships and the way we deal with ourselves and with others. This can sometimes be a little uncomfortable.
I often experience strong inner resistance from my coachees when we dive deeper into their inner work. Many are afraid that life will push them into major processes of change. They are afraid of suddenly being someone else and having to give up their old life. I can reassure you: With regular and routine inner work, you will gradually and gently change “only” into yourself. Into the person you really are and the person you want to be. This takes time and serenity. If you allow yourself to embark on your inner work journey, you will be able to deal with daily challenges much more reflectively and easily, make better decisions, be happier and more balanced.
With all these positive effects, doesn’t it make a lot of sense to deal with yourself, your challenges, fears, doubts and possibilities? Why is it so difficult to work on oneself, to take care of oneself, to listen to oneself, to ask questions and to make decisions for oneself? Maybe it’s ignorance, maybe it’s fear, comfort or misbelief when we refuse like a stubborn donkey to deal with our thoughts, beliefs and feelings? Yet it is so fundamental.
It begins within ourselves – and only there
Inner work begins within ourselves – naturally. One might assume that external circumstances or challenging situations inevitably lead us to (have to) ask ourselves really important questions. Questions that lead us to real answers and thus to solid solutions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. After all, that would mean facing these essential questions and being strong enough for hard-hitting answers. We prefer to wriggle out of it, dig at the surface, distract ourselves, give well-meaning advice to other people, say yes when we mean no and accept an unsatisfied state of being.
I am convinced that every human being has infinite possibilities to shape his or her own life and to steer it in a desirable direction. Yes, you too! Even if it is hard to grasp. No one is forcing you to live a life that does not fulfil you. No one is forcing you (hopefully) to do a job you don’t enjoy. No one is (hopefully) asking you to make better choices, think more positive thoughts and feel next-level emotions. The only person who can move you and your actions is yourself. Let that sink in for a moment. You yourself are responsible for your thoughts, which lead to feelings, which in turn influence your attitude and opinion, which encourages you to take a certain action, which leads to results.
The inner work thought spiral
This chain is important to understand. I call it the inner work thought spiral and as a simple formula it looks like this:
- Situation leads to thoughts.
- Thoughts lead to emotions.
- Emotions lead to feelings.
- Feelings lead to attitudes.
- Attitudes lead to actions.
- Actions lead to results.
I now invite you to a thought experiment that will teach you exactly that: To take control of your life with the help of the inner work thought spiral.
Are you ready for a small, powerful inner work exercise, some depth and AHA’s?
The inner rock concert
Think of a situation in which you tend to feel uncomfortable – it can also be a recurring situation. It can be an uncomfortable conversation, the upcoming salary negotiation, preparing for a presentation, conflict in the family. Whatever it is – there is no right or wrong. What does it do to you when you think of this situation? Does your heart suddenly beat faster, do your hands get clammy, do your thoughts flip over and are emotions triggered with sentences like: “Oh dear, I’m scared. I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say. I won’t be respected. I can try as hard as I want, it’s never enough, I’m never enough.” Write down the thoughts. They are just thoughts that I like to call the inner rock concert that is way too loud once again.
How about looking at this situation as neutral for now – maybe a mere appointment or a factual issue. Have the courage! For example, an upcoming difficult conversation could simply be an appointment (which, in fact, it is).
Every situation is an external circumstance
According to the inner work thought spiral, the upcoming conversation is a neutral external circumstance – an appointment in your calendar. As soon as you start thinking about the appointment, you give it a meaning. Suddenly it becomes a topic that either gives you pleasure or causes you anxiety, worry or insecurity. It is at this point that the thought spiral takes hold: you decide how to deal with the appointment and your thoughts.
I offer you two possibilities:
One: I have always done it this way.
You decide for what you have possibly always done this way: For the insecurity or the fear. This means you avoid the inner confrontation with your blocking, perhaps even negative thoughts and will remain in this emotion and these feelings until the appointment – the conversation – is finally over. That would be a pity, because in doing so you deprive yourself of all the possibilities that this conversation holds for you. You make yourself small, all the time, and are perceived in the same way by your counterpart. Think about whether you really want that.
Two: Get out of your comfort zone.
You decide to confront your doubts, worries and inner turmoil from the inside. This would be smart, because it puts you in positive energy and into action. You prepare for the conversation in a completely different way and meet your counterpart with curiosity and well prepared. If you decide on this variant, your doubts and worries could magically turn into joyful and expectant excitement and in the end you are proud of yourself for having thought two or three more positive thoughts beforehand (which led you to exactly this positive outcome).
Both options are your choice. Only yours.
Three steps to transformation
You are probably asking yourself: How is that supposed to work?
It’s very simple and at the same time not easy. However, it is only a matter of practice. The more often you are aware of these three steps and implement them consistently, the more self-confident you will become. I suggest that you practise in every little tricky situation.
First step: Self-observation
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or anxious, get into a helicopter position. From there, notice your thoughts without changing anything. Just observe, with curiosity and openness. Imagine that you are an eagle looking down on you very gently, while “down there” you are freaking out inside.
Ask yourself: How am I reacting to this situation? Why am I reacting this way? Who is involved in this situation? Where is the situation taking place? Are there recognisable patterns? What am I thinking, what am I feeling? Do I feel my doubts somewhere in my body – if so, where?
Second step: Really now?
Thoughts are just thoughts. We think about 60,000 thoughts a day. The majority of them are based on past experiences. Our brain is constantly constructing and comparing. So it is legitimate to question the thoughts you have in this situation. However, this does not mean that they are real.
Ask yourself: Are my thoughts really true? Or are they just an attempt by my inner rock concert to throw me off track and make me feel insecure? Are these thoughts helpful in this situation and do they serve the outcome? Haven’t I been in uncomfortable situations like this so many times in my life and always managed them well so far? So why just now (again) these doubts? Can’t I trust that I will deliver a good performance as usual? So what thoughts do I want to have instead?
Even this mini-step lets you deal consciously with your thoughts. By the way, you are right in the middle of your inner work.
Third Step: Act
Trust your experience, your personality and your strengths. You have already managed so much successfully. Every further difficult situation makes you stronger. You learn so much about yourself and how to turn challenges into opportunities with every conversation. Become aware of this and act accordingly. Nothing can happen to you. You can only grow.
Use your mind and don’t let it use you
We have this wonderful gift of having a consciousness and being able to think in complex ways. And what do we do most of the time? We let our thoughts swing us through our lives like puppets, controlled by others, filled with fear.
Sure, there are more pleasant things than dealing with oneself. I can understand when people prefer to distract themselves with unimportant things rather than courageously face the inner rock concert. An inner work seminar participant said to me the other day, “I’d rather go to the office for eight hours than work on myself.” Understandable. But that doesn’t absolve you from your own inner work. The more uncomfortable, the better!
Inner work is fundamental for a fulfilled and successful life!
So how about using this simple but powerful coaching exercise – the inner work thought spiral – to decide today to lead your life PROACTIVELY and SELF-DEFINED – with the help of your mind, your consciousness, your thoughts? Ask yourself daily: What thoughts do I want to have today? Direct your attention and awareness exactly there. Energy always follows attention.
Conclusion: Pay attention to your thoughts
This is why you should dedicate yourself to inner work every day:
- You find out what is bothering you.
- You bring old beliefs and patterns to light.
- You can dissolve these patterns.
- You connect with what is really important to you.
- You notice what is good for you and what is not – where you have resistance.
- You become more mindful of yourself and others.
- You improve your relationships and your interaction with each other.
- You will become calmer and better able to deal with fears.
- You make clearer decisions – FOR yourself.
- You are happier, more satisfied, more fulfilled, more successful.
Pay attention to your thoughts and take responsibility for the life you want to lead.
Janine Tychsen has published a very readable book in German: Frauen, geht in Fuehrung! 90 Tage Führungsmuskeltraining.
You can find an interview in German about the book here.
Janine Tychsen is a systemic coach for Inner Work and Self Leadership for women, a communication strategist for individuals and companies and a book author. She coaches, consults and teaches in the context of personal and career development. The corporate world was her “home” for over 20 years before she dedicated herself fully to coaching. She worked in global corporate communications in large companies in business and science – including many years as a female executive. She has always been close to people and has advised and accompanied them with her personality, experience and solid knowledge.